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Israeli Foreign Minister Meets With New Palestinian PM


Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni held talks Sunday in Jerusalem with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad - their first meeting since the new Palestinian government was formed last month.

Livni's office says in a statement that the meeting focused mainly on the Palestinian Authority and on ways to improve the living conditions of West Bank residents, while maintaining Israel's security interests.

Palestinian officials said Fayyad also was seeking further information about Israel's expected release of 250 Palestinian prisoners - a move the Israeli Cabinet approved in principle Sunday. There is no word yet on which prisoners will be freed, or when, but Israeli officials say the gesture is intended as a measure of support for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The Palestinian president named Fayyad to head a new government last month after violent clashes last month between Mr. Abbas' Fatah group and the rival Hamas faction.

Hamas seized control of all Palestinian territory in Gaza, but Fatah holds most of the West Bank.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says Israel wants to use every means available to strengthen Palestinian moderates. His hope is that the prisoner release could create conditions for the resumption of peace talks.

Israel holds more than 10,000 Palestinian prisoners, but the decision over which 250 are to be freed is creating divisions within Mr. Olmert's government. Senior Israeli officials say the prime minister rejected a preliminary list of prisoners' names drawn up by security officials, because many of those detainees were about to complete their sentences, so their release now would be seen as an empty gesture.

Since most of the prisoners to be freed are expected to be members of the Fatah party of President Abbas, members of the militant group Hamas already have condemned the Israel plan; they say it shows that Mr. Abbas is collaborating with Israel.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.